Constructive Creativity

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Little Boy Who Touched My Heart

This has been a difficult post to begin. I have been thinking about it for the past week. This post is dedicated to a little boy who passed away in a refugee camp in Afghanistan on Friday, April 15. His name was Qudrat Ullah Wardak and he was sixteen months old. When I heard on the local TV news that he had died, I was stunned and very sad. I could not speak for several minutes and tears flowed from my eyes. Even now, as I write this, I am feeling very emotional. I never personally knew this child, and yet I did feel a personal connection to him. I was most certainly not alone in my feelings. Thousands of people in central Indiana undoubtedly felt a similar connection. You see, Qudrat was here, in Indianapolis, for nearly two months, until Wednesday, April 13, when he returned home.

I first heard about Qudrat in late February, when the local news presented the story of the little boy who would be coming from Afghanistan with his father Hakim Gul Wardak. The story discussed how members of a unit of the Indiana National Guard were attending to the health needs of Afghan refugees near their camp when little Qudrat came to their attention. He was very tiny for his age, very weak, and his skin would frequently turn blue. A doctor with the Guard unit was familiar with such symptoms and knew immediately that there was a problem with the baby's heart. The doctor was pretty sure that Qudrat's symptoms were caused by the presence of a hole in the tissue that separated the right and left sides of his heart. Such a defect makes it very difficult for the heart to properly circulate oxygenated blood to the body. Most babies with similar symptoms do not live very long without medical intervention. The doctor knew that Qudrat would require some very specialized open heart surgery. However, there were no heart surgeons in Afghanistan. Fortunately for Qudrat, one of the Guardsmen was a member of The Rotary Club in his community in Indiana. This Club had a program called "The Gift of Life" which had provided funding to give dozens of children from all over the world the opportunity to have life saving medical procedures performed at a hospital in Indianapolis. This Guardsman contacted his Club members in Indiana and they agreed to sponsor the surgery that could save Qudrat's life. Please see this article for more information.

Qudrat and Hakim Wardak shortly after arrival in Indianapolis.

After Qudrat and Hakim arrived in Indianapolis, they were taken to the hospital where Qudrat would be thoroughly evaluated prior to his surgery. When the doctors had a chance to review the scans of Qudrat's heart, it was discovered that his condition was actually much more serious than the original diagnosis in Afghanistan. His tiny heart had several serious defects including a reversal of the major vessels leading away from the heart and a malformed heart chamber and valve (please read this for more information). This would be the most difficult operation that Qudrat's pediatric heart surgeon had ever attempted. He had experience repairing similar defects, but not all together in the same patient. However, despite the potential risks and difficulties, the medical team were confident that they could help Qudrat, and that the chances of his survival were very good. The operation took place and it was completely successful!

Qudrat happy and playful several weeks after surgery.

From the day that Qudrat and his father had arrived from Afghanistan, the local TV stations and newspapers had made the baby's condition and medical treatment a leading story. It was for me a wonderful change from the usual laundry list of crime and tragedy. This was a story with absolutely no moral ambiguity. Here was a tiny baby who would die without the help of many other people. Every day, I was eager for news on his progress. I worried for him before his surgery and I was elated for him that he had not only survived, but that his prognosis was very good. There was a small scare after the surgery when Qudrat and his father were accidently exposed to chicken pox. They were both immediately given a vaccine against the disease and were observed carefully for the next three weeks, however, neither came down with an infection. Meanwhile, Qudrat was doing exceptionally well. He was eating voraciously and was more active than he had ever been. Most importantly, he seemed very happy! So was his father. Hakim had expressed an interest in immigrating to the U.S. (please refer to this article). He was confident that his wife would like to live in America also. The Rotary Club arranged for Hakim to meet with a lawyer who was experienced in helping people to apply for immigration visas. However, Hakim decided that he would not attempt to stay in the U.S. during the application process. He did not want a long separation from his wife. So, as soon as Qudrat's doctors said that it was safe for him to travel, a return trip to Afghanistan was arranged. Hakim and Qudrat returned to something akin to a hero's welcome at the airport in Afghanistan and at the refugee camp. All of Qudrat's relatives wanted to hold him and play with him. Everyone was very happy, especially Qudrat's mother Tajbara (Here is an article about the homecoming). However, early in the morning of the second day of their return something happened that would turn the joy of Qudrat's homecoming to great sorrow. Qudrat awoke crying around 3:00 AM. His parents discovered that Qudrat's heart was beating very fast. They gave him some medicine for pain, that the Indianapolis doctors had prescribed and taught Hakim how to administer, and Qudrat calmed down. But, shortly thereafter, Qudrat stopped breathing. His parents sent for help to the Guard Camp, but by the time several Guard officiers arrived, it was to late and there was nothing that they could do. Qudrat had passed away. A few hours later, when the news of Qudrat's death was given to a group of reporters, who had traveled to Afghanistan to cover his return and follow his progress, they sat in stunned silence for several minutes, many of them openly weeping. Later that day, the news reached Indianapolis, where many more tears were shed for the little boy who had touched so many hearts.

According to the Muslim customs of Qudrat's family there was no autopsy and the boy was buried the same day that he died. No one will ever know why Qudrat died after such a promising initial recovery from surgery. But, I know that I and many others will remember him for a long time. I wish his parents peace, and if it is still their wish to come to America, I hope that they will be able. I think that there are many people in Indiana who are willing to help them, whatever they decide.

Here are two more articles written after Qudrat's death:

BBC NEWS : Afghan heart surgery toddler dies

IndyStar: Qudrat left imprint on reporter

Please note: even if you don't have time to read all the linked articles, they all have more pictures which help to tell Qudrat's story. Thanks for your interest!

Monday, April 04, 2005

My First Demonstration

Last month, my friend Sima posted a list of demonstrations that would be held across the U.S. on the 2nd anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Well, in all my years, I have never been to a demonstration, so I was curious. The demonstration was held, fittingly, in front of the Indianapolis War Memorial, and I must say that I was quite pleased that I went.

In all honesty, my personality is not particularly suited to publicly demonstrating. When I am in a crowd of strangers, I am inevitably an observer rather than a participant in whatever they are doing. However, in this case, I did feel more than a little kinship with these demonstrators. The main point of this demonstration was to express a strong desire for the U.S. troops to leave Iraq immediately. Some of my readers already know that I am quite doubtful regarding the wisdom of an abrupt pullout of American troops since Iraq's societal infrastructure has been badly damaged by the invasion and is still not very strongly reorganized. However, despite my misgivings about the demonstration's theme, I found that there were many things that the speakers were talking about that I could agree with. For example, America needs to stop wasting its precious human and financial resources "defending" its thirst for oil and instead put those resources into developing new technologies that will increase the energy efficiency of the many industries, vehicles, and living accomodations that our society depends on. In addition to using less oil, we need to invest in new sources of energy, particularly renewables like solar and wind power. Other things discussed that are very important to me were improving access to health care for all American citizens and saving Social Security. Just a small portion of what has been spent invading and occupying Iraq would have provided health insurance to millions of Americans who currently have none. So, I did indeed find a number of reasons to join with other demonstrators in applauding the various speaker's comments!

In between segments of speakers there were a few interludes reserved for entertainment. The featured guest, who is the subject of my third picture, goes by the stage name "George Shrub" and bills himself as the world's only singing CIA Agent. His songs and jokes were very funny and satirical jibes at Bush and his pack of Neo-Cons. I really enjoyed his performance!

For me, one of the most striking occurrences at the demonstration was when a man drove by and shouted "Get a Life!" I couldn't help feeling a profound sense of irony as I noticed the "Support our Troops" magnet affixed to the back of his gas guzzling Ford Excursion!

I would like to extend my thanks to Sima for helping me to have a very interesting day!